Friday, July 18, 2008

Fuji, Japan

2008 July: 2-day trip - Climb Mt Fuji - Japan

"See this X-Ray picture here ... here are your knees ... you have arthritis!!!" so gloated the doctor triumphantly as if he had found some hidden treasure. This was in mid 2007 when I found my knees were not good. They hurt if I walked on stairs with some weight in a backpack. And why was I walking the stairs with a backpack? Well, I had been training for the big Aconcagua climb planned for Jan 2008 by walking the staircases of a multi-story carpark in the middle of the night when the carpark was empty.

The doctor's diagnosis was a bitter disappointment. Reluctantly, I cancelled the trip to Aconcagua.

Later on, a pharmacist friend suggested glucosamine and fish oil tablets may help the joints. After taking them for a while, I found the tablets worked wonders and the knees didn't hurt anymore ... although I could only climb staircases one step at a time. Taking 2 staircase steps in one go would still hurt. But one step at a time should be good enough for Aconcagua ... so I theorized. To prove it, I need to find a decent sized mountain for testing ... hence Mt Fuji !!!

Fuji is Japan's highest mountain, 3776 meters. In July, the month I climbed it, it was quite warm at the top, a comfortable 5 degrees.

Having climbed Africa's Kilimajaro, Fuji in summer turned out to be a bit of a disappointment ... well, the scenery was no where as grand as Kilimanjaro. Its crater was tiny by comparison. The landscape near the top was brown dirt with no white ice to jazz it up. No wonder there is this Japanese saying, you are wise to climb Fuji once, a fool to climb it twice.

Hey, you really ought to see the Kilimanjaro crater. It is HUGE !!! It would take hours of walking on the crater rim to circumnavigate it. Whereas 30 minutes is more than enough to walk around the Fuji crater.

Although Fuji was not an exciting mountain for climbing, I did have the good fortune to meet 6 lovely ladies ... as a matter of fact, besides me and the mountain guide, all the other climbers were female!!! 4 were from USA and 2 were from Australia. I had no idea why they wanted to climb Fuji. When in Japan, why didn't they go and roam around the Ginza shopping district? ... far more exciting there.

About the climb: It was not an easy stroll. It was uphill all the way. But in another sense, it was a comfortable walk ... because the track was lined with shops selling snacks and drinks. If you were willing to pay 500 Yen for a 250 ml bottle of water, then you didn't even need to carry any water. And unlike toilets on other mountains which were stinking smelly holes in the ground, the toilets in Fuji had seats, flushable, clean and didn't smell.

How about my knees? They held up very well for the entire trip, no sign of discomfort. Aconcagua, I am coming!!!

Some photos: (To enlarge a photo, click on it.)

1: Subashiriguchi 5th Station - the starting point of the Fuji climb


2: Group photo ~~ Our guide Brent is on the right. I'm in luck, aside from me, this an all female group!!!


3: At the start of the trail, you buy a hiking stick for 1000 Yen. At each rest station such as this one, for a price of 200 Yen, you have your stick branded with the station's mark. My stick is being branded right here in this photo. Since there are many rest stations on the trail, and if the stick is branded at each stop, the total cost of the marks far exceeds the cost of stick. The Japanese are very smart at value adding. I won't be surprised if they bought the wood from us Aussies at 10 Yen. And now I'll be out of pocket for 3000 Yen for the stick and all the brandings!!!


4: There are many encouraging signs like this throughout the trail. Here it says "Do Yoer Best!". There are several climbing trails to the summit. And not surprisingly, there are plenty of cases where people went down the mountain on the wrong trail and ended up on the wrong side of the mountain far away from where they had parked their cars. To minimize incidences like these, all routes are colour coded. Here, red is the colour of our Subashiriguchi trail.


5: Closer view of Mt Fuji ~~ unfortunately we don't have any spectacular view of Fuji from this trail. This is the best I can do.


6: As mentioned already, the starting point of the trail is 5th Station. The summit is called the 10th Station. And you guessed it ... there are 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th Stations in between where you can buy snacks, drinks and visit the toilet. These stations must have been quite popular, because in between them, spring up New 6th, New 7th, New 8th, New 9th stations. The previous photo where my stick was being branded was at the New 6th Station. Here in this photo, it is the Main 6th Station. I guess "Main" is an euphemism for "Old".


7: Brent, the guide leading the fearless Amazons


8: On the way up, we met a couple with their dog on the way down. The dog was wearing socks, so cute! But the poor dog didn't look happy. It couldn't understand why it had to climb up a mountain and then climbed all the way down again. I could hear it asking, "Why???"


9: This view is fantastic!!! A perfectly cone shaped shadow of Mt Fuji on the clouds below.


10: That night, we slept at the 8th Station in a dormitory styled bunk bed. No male/female section. Here was beautiful Barbara beckoning us to bed.


11: We woke at 2 am and trudged on upwards; and were reward at the summit by this glorious view of the sunrise.


12, 13: At the summit ~~ only 4 of us made it. The others were too tired to even bothered to get out of bed. They stayed back at the 8th Station.


14: Going down the mountain ~~ This is a view of the 8th station where we spent the night.


15: A typical scree where we slide down the mountain.

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